Lung is the organ for gas exchange where oxygen diffuses into blood and is exchanged for carbon dioxide in hemoglobin of erythrocytes; that means transfer oxygen from air into blood and carbon dioxide (a waste product of body) from blood into air. To accomplish gas exchange, it has two components: airways and alveoli. The airways are branching, tubular passages like branches of a tree that allow air to move in and out of lungs. The wider segments of airways are trachea and two bronchi (going to either right or left lung). The smaller segments are called bronchioles. At the end of bronchioles are the alveoli, thin-walled sacs. (The airways and alveoli can be conceptualized as bunches of grapes with airways analogous to stems and alveoli analogous to grapes.) Small blood vessels (capillaries) run in walls of the alveoli, and it is across thin walls of the alveoli where gas exchange between air and blood takes place.
Breathing involves inspiration followed by exhalation. During inspiration, muscles of diaphragm and rib cage contract and expand size of chest (as well as airways and alveoli) causing negative pressure within airways and alveoli. As a result, air is sucked through the airways and into the alveoli and chest wall is enlarged. During exhalation, same muscles relax and chest wall springs back to its resting positions, shrinking the chest and creating positive pressure within the airways and alveoli. As a result, air is expelled from the lungs.
The walls of bronchioles are weak and tend to collapse, especially while exhaling. Normally, bronchioles are kept open by elasticity of lung. Elasticity of lung is supplied by elastic fibers, which surround airways and line the walls of alveoli. When lung tissue is destroyed, as it is in patients with COPD who have emphysema, there is loss of elasticity and the bronchioles can collapse and obstruct flow of air. Normal lung tissues look a lot like a normal sponge. Emphysema often looks like an old sponge with large irregular holes and loss of spring and elasticity.
In addition to function in respiration, lungs also have non-respiratory function:
• Alter the pH of blood by facilitating alterations in partial pressure of carbon dioxide.
• Filter out small blood clots formed in veins.
• Filter out gas micro-bubbles occurring in venous blood stream such as those created during decompression after underwater diving.
• Influence concentration of some biologic substances and drugs used in medicine in blood
• May serve as a layer of soft, shock-absorbent protection for heart, which the lungs flank and nearly enclose.
• Immunoglobulin-A is secreted in bronchial secretion and protects against respiratory infections.
•Helps in maintaining sterility by producing mucus containing antimicrobial compounds.
• An important defense system against air-borne infection; dust particles and bacteria in inhaled air are caught in mucous layer present at mucosal surface of respiratory passages and are moved up towards pharynx by rhythmic upwards beating action of cilia.
• Helps providing airflow for creation of vocal sounds.
• Loss of blood from systemic circulation by hemorrhage can be partially compensated for by shunting blood from lungs into the systemic vessels.
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